The union between evangelical Christians and the religious right is shaking. Recent statistical analyses have found that a growing number of evangelicals have stopped voting Republican. But Obama’s administration hasn't made allies just yet.
The new evangelicals are a loosely defined group of influential evangelical pastors who have made a number of important breaks from the religious right. First, they no longer condemn homosexuality outright. Second, they warn that the church should be independent from the government and oppose the revolving door of lobbies, pastors, and politicians who traditionally compose the religious right. Third, they are open to the legalization of abortion.
On the positive side, new evangelicals seek to engage in active, independent ministry that mirrors the work of Jesus. This means embracing common-sense, justice-seeking solutions to poverty, homelessness, crisis pregnancies, education, and environmental issues, even when positions are not shared by the GOP.
Sounds like the religious right is growing some progressives. But not so fast, Democrats.
While they are young, multi-ethnic, and grassroots, the new evangelicals are also young, multi-ethnic, and grassroots. They account for, at most, 30% of evangelicals. To be a real evangelical leader, you must still actively teach traditional evangelical positions on homosexuality, abortion, and other religions.
Furthermore, the positives are largely hollow. Groups arising to help the helpless often require statements of Christian faith and church attendance. Christian crisis pregnancy centers continue to spread slanted information regarding contraceptives. And while a few evangelical leaders did speak out against the anti-homosexual laws in Uganda, and nearly half support civil unions, 75% still oppose same-sex marriage.
Finally, even the new evangelicals identify themselves as anti-government. They voted Republican in 2012 on economic and policy grounds, if not religious grounds.
Will this shift generationally? Will evangelicals under 30 move left? Maybe. While young Christians are accepting homosexuality, they still strongly oppose abortion, and it may remain as a watershed issue for evangelicals. Most importantly, small government continues to be an evangelical cause, and the new social safety net is not popular. So no, Obama doesn’t have new friends just yet.